The realist theory of international relations has come in for some criticism in recent years. It is natural, then, that realists should seek a systematic reappraisal of their views. The first of these volumes provides an excellent overview of the development of realist theory, beginning with Thucydides and continuing through the Sophists, Machiavelli, and twentieth -century realists like Morganthau, Niebuhr, and Waltz. Paul Rahe's chapter is particularly acute, pointing out that contrary to common belief Thucydides did not seek to downplay moral issues in international politics.
The difficulties in turning realism into a scientific theory of politics are illustrated by the second volume, also intelligent. Restating realism to take account of contemporary realities means that the theory loses most of its elegant parsimony: as various chapters indicate, states now seek to maximize economic competitiveness rather than military power; domestic factors rather than the structure of the international system become determinants of whether states are aggressive or merely seek security; bi-polarity is not clearly more stable than multipolarity. Rather than providing a comprehensive framework for understanding international relations, realism is one of several possible tools, better applicable in certain times and places than in others.